I was driving merrily along a highway that I really like because of its picturesque nature and the way it winds through valleys, hills, past rivers and lakes, through quaint little towns. Suddenly I noticed a black car ahead on my right, parked in an unused driveway. I immediately checked my odometer and realized I was well over the speed limit. I slowed up as I passed the black car, but sure enough, it pulled out with lights flashing and I humbly and quickly pulled to the side of the road. I opened my glove compartment to fetch my ownership and insurance, and grabbed my driver’s license from my wallet and waited.
“Good afternoon Ma’am”
“how are ya today”
“Not too bad sir,” (my voice trembling slightly…feeling like a kid caught in trouble) “how about you?”
“Where ‘r you off to in such a hurry?”
“Guess I was a little anxious to get to see my kids. (lump forming in my throat…feeling sorry for myself) They’re working in a tree planting camp down the road…haven’t seen them all summer. My son’s the supervisor and my daughter’s cooking for the crew. “
“Oh the one on the corner of 41 and 132”
To be honest, I’ve only been there once, I’m using the GPS to get there..not sure…it’s called HRI.
“yup I know where you’re going. (Pause) How are your points?”
Racking my brains…when was my last ticket? “Um…ok I think…I’m not sure…I do a lot of driving…(a bit dejected) sometimes I speed.” (I figured I might as well be brutally honest)
“Can I see your license, ownership and insurance? I’ll see what I can do for you”
“Thank you, Officer”
As I waited in my car to receive my penalty, my emotions and thoughts were varied. “You deserve this Nora, smarten up. Why can’t I just be free and do what I want? I wasn’t hurting anybody. What is this going to teach me? Can I grow from this experience? I feel ashamed in the face of this man who is just doing his job and actually being nice about it. I feel like a little kid and I’m 64 years old! This is uncomfortable but just face it and see what’s there for you. I’m sorry I was speeding, but truthfully, I’m more sorry that I got caught!
Then the verdict: a “Ma’am, I’m giving you a $50 ticket” I looked him in the eye. “Thank you officer.” I know…it seems crazy to be thankful for a ticket ..lol…but truth is it could have been more than quadruple that! I had a feeling that took me awhile to identify…it was a gratefulness, a humbleness, a wonder at this man I’d never met before, who could have come down hard on me, but didn’t…It touched me in a way that’s hard to describe. Relief, gratefulness, joy, humility, hope, a desire to change. I thought about it…if he had given me a $300 ticket, I would not have experienced any of that….it would have just been, pay the bill and get it over with. Justice had been served.
I am not telling this story to argue about good cop/bad cop, whether it was right that he only gave me a $50 ticket, whether I should have got what the law says, regardless who I was or who I was going to see. The reason this incident touched me is that it was an experience of sorrow and mercy. It wasn’t that I was sorry for what I did, and the officer gave me a “punishment” that I deserved. It was that the punishment was way less than I deserved (mercy) and that touched my heart, made me grateful and brought something that opened me to change (grace).
I could write it off and say it’s just a little insignificant event, but it pointed me to a greater mercy, that I have experienced my entire life: the mercy of a God who “knit me together in my mother’s womb,”… gave me life, a healthy body, emotions, free will, family, relationships, education about the meaning of my life, a desire to know Him, forgiveness when I mess up, hope for the future, food of His Word and His Body and Blood, healing of my wounds and so much more. He gave me all this freely, out of His merciful love. When I think about that it opens in me a gratefulness and largeness of heart that nothing else could affect
It also made me ponder again the greatest gift of mercy the world has ever known. The mercy of a God who took the punishment for all of our sins on the Cross and only asks that we accept His love and forgiveness in return. A deep down belief in that truth, an experience of it, is the only possible fuel for a changed life, filled with meaning and hope.
How did this experience change me? It renewed in me the desire to extend that same mercy a little more generously to every person I encounter. It made me understand again the beauty of sorrow for wrong doing, and of God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ. As for slowing down my driving, this just might be the incident that helps me “turn the corner!”
Nora McKernan is a mom of eight and grandmother of four. After 23 years as a full time mom, Nora has worked for 20 years in low-income housing in Community Relations. She loves to listen to people, travel, pray, write, revel in nature and play with her grandkids.